A Chinese commercial rocket company, Beijing Interstellar Glory Space Technology Ltd. (iSpace), has achieved a successful test of its reusable launch vehicle. On November 2, iSpace launched the Hyperbola-2Y single-stage hopper at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center. The test article, powered by a variable thrust Focus-1 engine, reached a height of 178 meters during its 51-second flight. It then performed a powered descent and soft landing with the support of four landing legs. This successful vertical takeoff, vertical landing test demonstrates progress toward the development of a reusable medium-lift rocket that is set to debut in 2025.
The test also represents China’s ongoing efforts to emulate the success of SpaceX and its Falcon 9 rocket. It verified iSpace’s variable thrust methane-liquid oxygen propulsion, vertical landing guidance, navigation, and control systems. The test will be used to further evaluate recovery and reuse processes. Although the test footage did not show the restarting of the Focus-1 engine, iSpace has previously conducted ground restart hot fire tests.
According to iSpace, the successful hop test signifies a major breakthrough in China’s commercial aerospace industry, particularly in the field of reusable launch vehicle technology. The company plans to develop the Hyperbola-3 rocket, featuring a reusable first stage. Skipping the previously-planned smaller Hyperbola-2, iSpace aims to launch the 13.4-metric-ton Hyperbola-3 rocket into low Earth orbit (LEO) in 2025. A demonstration of reuse capability is scheduled for 2026, with a target of conducting 25 Hyperbola-3 launches per year by 2030.
iSpace made history in 2019 as the first privately-funded Chinese company to reach orbit with the Hyperbola-1 rocket. Despite experiencing three consecutive failures, the company has successfully returned to flight. Additionally, other Chinese companies, such as Galactic Energy, CAS Space, and Deep Blue Aerospace, are also working on the development of reusable rockets.
China opened up its space sector to private and commercial activity in 2014 to keep up with the rapid growth of the commercial space industry in the United States. This move has led to an increase in commercial space launch endeavors in China, with several companies successfully reaching orbit in 2023. The development of commercial launch vehicles is expected to be further supported by opportunities such as cargo delivery contracts for the Tiangong space station and the Guowang LEO broadband megaconstellation.